Inside Mazda

Tackling the Challenge of Creating a Color That Instinctively Looks Beautiful

Keiichi Okamoto, a creative design expert, played a key role in the development of the original Soul Red Metallic and Machine Gray Metallic, colors that symbolize KODO Design.

“I wanted to create the world’s most beautiful red,” Okamoto explained. “A color that people would viscerally feel was beautiful and that would immediately grab their attention. The CX-5 represents an evolution of the concept of ‘less is more’ that does not rely on character lines. This required a new red that would beautifully highlight the exquisite transitions in the body’s surfaces.”

In this belief, Okamoto put together a task team comprising people from development and production along with representatives of suppliers. The team then set out to develop a new version of Soul Red. Since the development of Machine Gray, Mazda has been forming these teams of experts to create ideal colors. In developing the new Soul Red, Okamoto presented team members with the following three verbal images of what he felt was required of the new color: bright highlights bursting with powerful energy like that of flowing magma, shaded areas with a clear, translucent nature and a lustrous shine exhibiting fine detail and hardness. But these descriptions were not enough for the team to grasp the image of the ideal color that Okamoto was aiming to create. To help illustrate what he had in mind, he showed them a bright ruby-colored drinking glass.

“I want a deep shade of red like the translucent red of rubies or of red glass,” said Okamoto.

Takakazu Yamane of the testing and research department puzzled over Okamoto’s description. Yamane was fundamental in achieving the three-layer wet paint system and Mazda’s own Aqua-tech paint system, one of the most environmentally friendly automotive paint systems in the world. A true paint system expert, he was also involved in the development of Machine Gray.

“To realize the highly translucent red that Okamoto envisioned I felt we had to first translate the ideal red into numerical values based on ergonomics,” Yamane said. “That allowed us to measure how people perceived color and light and give us a goal the team could work toward.”

Yamane figured the only way to achieve this would be to convert Okamoto’s vision and sensibilities into numerical values. He decided the best approach would be to use a high-precision optical measuring instrument developed to study Earth’s natural resources from satellites and not traditionally used in color development and got hold of this equipment right away. Yamane measured ruby-colored glass and other objects he felt best represented the ideal at the same location and from the same position and angle as Okamoto’s eyes, analyzed the relationship between the spectrum of the light and what Okamoto viewed and his response to it, and converted the data on the red they should aim for into numerical values. By performing this detailed analysis, Yamane says, the team could match the characteristics of the ideal color with the way people actually perceive colors.

There are many different shades and hues of red. The ideal red the team aimed to create has highlights that sparkle with an orange tone like the color of magma. At the same time, the shaded areas are a clear red with a depth that emphasizes the shadows.

When looking at a clear, deep red, most people sense a slight blue tone. But the team found that when measured using optical measurement instruments, the color contains no blue pigment and the blue tone perceived by people was no more than an illusion. Conversely, the team found that, if other colors are mixed with the red, people perceive them as muddiness. So, the testing and analysis led the team to conclude that reaching its goal was not a matter of taking the ideal image and mixing colors to achieve it. Rather, the key was to work to achieve as pure a red as possible.

“The more one pursues the essence, the less tolerance there is for extraneous elements,” Okamoto said. “‘Less is more’ proves true with colors as well.”

At this stage, Koji Teramoto of the paint technology group went to work on developing the ideal color the team was aiming for. Teramoto is an expert in paint technology whose experience includes working on the technical development of the Aqua-tech paint system and Machine Gray.

The greatest challenge he faced was how to formulate the color so it could be applied in three layers using Mazda’s environmentally friendly Aqua-tech painting system. Machine Gray has a black layer below the reflective layer on which high-brightness aluminum flakes are aligned. Letting the jet-black pigment beneath show through the gaps between the aluminum flakes creates a lustrous metallic look that highlights the contrasts in the shadows. Likewise, a translucent red layer on top of the black and reflective layers would make it possible to create a vivid red that is deep and lustrous. But that would require four layers, including the clear top layer, and require two passes down the paint line. This would not only limit the number of customers to which Mazda could deliver this color but also place a greater burden on the environment, and the team was determined to avoid that.

“I told myself there was no way we could compromise on this, and sticking to this led to a new idea,” Teramoto said.

In addition to the high-brightness aluminum flakes, Teramoto and the rest of the team introduced light-absorbing flakes that deepen the shade. It is a radical new approach that incorporates the functions of the reflective and light-absorbing layers into a single coat of paint. The team was also particular about the shape and size of the aluminum flakes to achieve a fine texture like that of metal that has been highly polished by skilled craftsmen.

“The smallest particle the human eye can perceive from a distance of approximately 30 cm is about 25 microns. We tried to make the flakes imperceptible, by using flakes of 12 to 15 microns,” said Teramoto.

During the application process, the number of high-brightness aluminum flakes and light-absorbing flakes in each drop of paint is controlled so that they do not come into contact with each other. The result is smooth and even distribution of the paint on the body surface.

The single-minded commitment and passion each team member devoted to the project led to a variety of new technologies that defy conventional thinking and the creation of a new red color with a translucent quality never before seen.

 

The team included people from outside suppliers and Teramoto talked about how he shared his passion for the color development project. “We invited them to join us in using Japanese technology to create the world’s best red color,” Teramoto said. “I talked about this with them on many occasions. As they are also involved in monotsukuri (crafting), I was sure they’d understand.”

This illustrates the passion shared by every member of the team as they tackled the challenge of creating a new color to symbolize KODO design.

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